KINGFIELD – Many businesses and organizations have shifted towards placing an emphasis on outdoor venues and initiatives as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, but Kingfield Elementary School saw the importance of utilizing outdoor resources and spaces long before the virus began spreading. About a year and a half ago, KES began the outdoor classroom project that proved to be more and more beneficial as time went on and the pandemic arose.
“The project preceded it, but Covid has given us more energy and more resources to take what we’d been doing and help it to grow,” KES Principal Johanna Prince said.
The outdoor classroom initiative will result in three completed outdoor pavilions that will be fully functional all four seasons of the year, in which students will receive a revised curriculum that incorporates outdoor observations and investigations into the subjects taught in a traditional indoor class setting.
“The goal is to get the curriculum resources outside. The amended curriculum will observe the seasonal changes and hopefully get kids to feel more connected to where they live,” Prince said.
As well as energy and an increase in initiative, Covid-19 has also provided Kingfield Elementary with the funds to help make the project possible. So far, the project has taken nothing from the school’s primary budget and has been solely funded by the CRF grants distributed to schools to alleviate any negative financial impacts from the pandemic, as well as other smaller grants sought out by Prince and other contributing partners. University of Maine Farmington’s Professor Patti Bailey, who has experience in nature-based early childhood education aided in connecting Kingfield with a grant from the Biosophical Institute.
“She helped to champion some of the work,” Prince said.
Building off of the foundation established during Kingfield Elementary’s gardening program five years prior to the outdoor classroom initiative, the school and its community already had a basis of passion and interest in outdoor education. In the past year of the classroom’s construction, the community’s involvement has been instrumental in getting the initiative off the ground.
According to Prince, the support from parents has been overwhelming, many donating time and resources when possible to the construction process. Students have also been included in the building of their classrooms, wheeling in the very chalkboards that will be used for their instruction. In Prince’s view, this has involvement has proved to benefit them both socially and physically.
“Having a project connects us to place and community has been a bright spot for education right now,” Prince said.
While the outdoor classrooms are currently only partially functional, with Kingfield already utilizing the rooms, the hope is to expand the classroom to its full potential as they continue to fine-tune the curriculum. The school plans on partnering with the Koviashuvik homesteading school to bring more opportunities to incorporate nature-based learning into the students’ existing subjects.